Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Three Principles

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said, “If there is no Torah there is no civilization [derech eretz: literally, ‘way of the land’]” (Avos 3:17). The word “Torah” here cannot be meant literally, since there are many ignorant people who have not learned it, and many pious among the gentiles who do not keep the Torah, and yet are ethical and civilized. Rather, the correct interpretation seems to me to be that every people has its own Divine religion, which comprises three foundational principles, (1) belief in a revealed Torah; (2) belief in reward and punishment; and (3) belief in an afterlife. They only disagree on the interpretation of these principles. These three principles are what are called here “Torah.” (Rabbi Yisrael Lipschutz, Tiferes Yisrael, ad loc.)

This indicates that in the view of Rabbi Lipschutz, we as Jews must recognize the contributions of other religions to world civilization, albeit that we disagree on interpretations of the fundamentals of faith. Thus, he implicitly advocates religious tolerance in order to promote peace and the betterment of society as a whole.